In late March, global integrated brand agency Digitas, part of Publicis Groupe, announced the debut of a dedicated b-to-b marketing practice. Dennis Reilly, previously senior VP-marketing for the agency, serves as director of Digitas Business, working with clients such as Aflac, ConocoPhillips and Comcast B2B.
Reilly joined the agency in 1995 and for more than a decade has helped clients pioneer b-to-b CRM programs, digital sales enablement tools and peer networks. BtoB recently spoke to Reilly about Digitas Business and the latest trends in b-to-b advertising and marketing.
BtoB: Why was the time right for a dedicated b-to-b marketing practice within Digitas?
Dennis Reilly: We're starting to see a pivot, where b-to-b clients and prospects are calling us and saying, "You're right: Digital is changing our space. Help me take advantage of it?' It just felt right to formalize this. There is a huge paradigm shift happening in the relationship between salespeople and their clients and also between marketing and sales. People are really feeling it now. Sales and marketing ... really need to come together because digital has such an influence on the entire sales process. Salespeople don't necessarily have that digital expertise, and that's where marketing can help. Marketing people have to redefine themselves as more than just sales collateral. They need to engage with clients, prospects and the salespeople, and make sure that they're doing what salespeople need them to do: generate leads and keep them engaged.
BtoB: How has b-to-b marketing changed in the past few years?
Reilly: One way is [the rise of] digital content and thought leadership. When you think of b-to-b marketers, their intellectual capital, their point of view on the marketplace, their strategy, their ideas—that is the brand. Those pieces of thought leadership, whether it comes from a specific person or group of people, can now be created and distributed in so many dynamic ways that weren't available 10 years ago. Clients want to leverage that intellectual capital and get a bigger ROI from it, and they're turning to digital to make that happen.
BtoB: Where does online advertising fit into the marketer's toolbox today?
Reilly: Marketing, especially in the b-to-b space, [should be] more of a service than a message. If you can use your content as advertising, there's a higher level of utility. Then prospects and clients are really getting something from that, and they're willing to engage with that brand and engage with that salesperson. We're working with some clients now where the video content is in fact the online ad. It's advertising as a service versus advertising as a message. B-to-b marketers generally spend a lot of money on intellectual capital and thought leadership. But if it gets tied up within the four walls of the organization, they're not getting the ROI associated with it. Getting it out as part of advertising as a service really gives them the uptick in ROI that they're looking for.
BtoB: What could b-to-b online advertisers be doing better?
Reilly: I'll hit on the same issue—advertising as a message. I'm not saying it doesn't work, but it doesn't work as well as creating utility by using content as part of the advertising itself. Also, you have to put that content not just on your website but in places where your target audience is already congregated.
We really try to walk in the shoes of the salespeople to really understand their work flow. If marketing isn't helping sales in the digital space, the salesperson is at a huge disadvantage because their competition is likely doing it. When a salesperson leaves the room, prospects go to the Web and their Rolodex looking for validation for what they heard. It shouldn't be incumbent on the salesperson to create that content. That's not their area of expertise; that's [the role] digital marketing has to play.
BtoB: What technologies should be top-of-mind for b-to-b marketers?
Reilly: The advent of the tablet, in particular the iPad, has really changed the game. That is changing the way salespeople go to meetings. We've all been in that situation when you go into a sales meeting and don't have all the answers. But you want to feel that you have the full army of that company that you're working for behind you. With an iPad, you can have all that content—video content, infographics, points of view, etc. You can have that available over dinner or in the boardroom; you carry it with you. You're giving the salesperson a pocket army. It's radically changing the b-to-b space.